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article by: Michael Canter

19 June 2012

Tulsa Yesterday, Tomorrow & Forever (Part One)

"Tulsa yesterday, tomorrow....forever
Today I think I'll take my own sweet time
You can tell by my shoes that I am a believer
Or just look into my eyes....." 
~ Chris Robinson, Tulsa Yesterday

Tulsa is an amazing city, one that is geographically small but eclectically large and bighearted.  The music scene is simply unbelievable.  So great, in fact, that Aric S. Queen, who writes a travel blog for the National Geographic, predicts Tulsa will be the next Austin. “Granted, I don’t have all the fancy numbers to back this claim up, but fancy numbers are not what Okies are all about,” he wrote in a recent article.

I would tend to agree.  One need only look at Third Street to see a visible comparison to Austin's famed Sixth Street, and Tulsa is throwing tons of money into new construction.  Imagine:  A city with such a rich musical tradition is not only embracing it's past but carving it's niche as the live music capitol of the Midwest.  With so many great bands there simply aren't enough venues to host them all.  Solution - build more venues.

The intended result is to keep those bands home, or at least serve as a home base.  Traditionally, acts have left the area to go on to bigger and better things.  That's okay, nobody wants to stand in the way of success.  I think Tulsa would be fine being known as home to those artists and as a city for those homespun acts to play regularly and record when they are not on tour.

Queen attributes his forecast to three factors: people (“Okies are hungry for entertainment”), location (smack-dab in the middle of the country), and vision. “We actually produce serious visionaries, something we don’t get enough credit for,” said Rob Vera, co-founder  of OKC-based Okie Dope Records, name-dropping the likes of Woody Guthrie, Leon Russell, The Flaming Lips, and Chainsaw Kittens as proof.

I'll add another.  You'd have to look far and wide to see an advertisement for a cover or tribute band in Tulsa or Norman, and thankfully, as the infiltration of that scourge will destroy the vibe of any music mecca.

Past being the past, one need simply see some of the live acts I saw this past weekend to have a similar forward-thinking light bulb moment:  Paul Benjaman at The Blue Rose,  Pilgrim at The Colony, Desi & Cody and Dead Sea Choir at the Riverwalk Crossing Amphitheater , GoGo Plumbay at Fassler Hall, and Dustin Pittsley at Back Alley Blues & BBQ.  Even better, mid-level acts from other cities are making sure to get gigs in at some of those same places:  Parker Millsap and Uncle Lucius at Mercury Lounge and Tiger High at Fassler Hall are just a couple of fine examples.  On August 11, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is playing the legendary Cain's Ballroom.  I have yet to attend an event at Cain's Ballroom, but my personal take on it is that Cain's is historically and comfortably comparable to CBGB's based on acts that have played there and it's tradition of launching musical success stories.

Considering the great music scene in Norman/Oklahoma City as well, one that rivals Tulsa's and is a mere 100 miles away, you have an area that is ripe and ready to erupt as the new music capital of the country.  The festival scene in both metropolitan areas is literally non-stop each weekend. Don't be surprised if a festival like Norman Music Fest  (see our review) becomes the premier indie music fest in this country each year, outpacing SXSW. 

Tulsa the new Austin?  At it's current pace and growth rate, Austin won't be able to hold a candle to Tulsa five years from now.

Parker Millsap at Mercury Lounge 06/15/2012
1747 S. Boston Avenue, Tulsa, OK

It used to be a gas station.

Mercury Lounge is a converted gas station on the corner of 18th & Boston, and has been voted Tulsa's Best Bar with Tulsa's best bartenders. It's the self-proclaimed nicest dive around and features an open patio, a covered patio, a fireplace, a pool table and an old school juke box, and the best live original music anywhere.

Add Parker Millsap to that equation.

On Friday evening, Parker Millsap performed a firebrand mix of blues, country and old-timey music that was at once timeless and current, throwback nostalgia being a steady influence in any era of music but especially these days.

Millsap’s voice plays three double whiskey-rocks rough;  road weary, yet smoothly aged at the same time, except the man (boy) is nineteen years old.  Millsap is Tom Waits reincarnate, and manages to paint a landscape of Waits-like experiences in stunning fashion.  A pure, story-telling troubadour from Purcell, Oklahoma, Millsap is a little more classic country, leaning on a strong blues and gospel foundation.  That amalgamation spells success for Millsap, as he is one of Oklahoma's rising stars, and his show at Mercury Lounge signified that. I believe his album Palisade dropped May 8th, and I'll be reviewing it tomorrow.

The live show, featuring most of that album, was a five-star performance that captured the attention of those in attendance to see headlining act Uncle Lucius. It is pure pleasure watching an up and coming act instantaneously bond with and attract new fans like Millsap did during his Mercury Lounge performance.  Parker is on the fast track, and with a great new album in tow it is not difficult to see national recognition on the immediate horizon.

The Paul Benjaman Band at The Blue Rose 06/16/2012
1924 Riverside Drive, Tulsa, OK

Nestled in Tulsa's River Parks area, The Blue Rose features an amazing, riverfront ambiance that plays like a warm-breezed tropical vacation on a mid-June Saturday evening.  Paul Benjaman, another of Tulsa's rising stars, captivated the patio audience with a blistering performance on a perfect summer night.

Paul is one of Tulsa's best guitarists, hands down.  I immediately think of Warren Haynes as a valid comparison, as Benjaman could easily step in as lead for Gov't Mule or the Allman Brothers and neither band would miss a beat.  Paul is a member of Brian Horton's New Tulsa Sound, a group of musicians with their own bands that are basically interchangeable, the "Colony Rats" as Benjaman described them, that frequently and graciously let their New Tulsa Sound comrades step in and jam with each other.   Paul's band features Jesse Aycock on pedal steel and Bo Haliford of The Panda Resistance on bass.

The Blue Rose show was vintage Benjamin, a wicked combination of rock, jazz and blues with a sound reminiscent of J.J. Cale intertwined with a super cool Van Morrison vibe and the ad-lib spontaneity of a Miles Davis jam session.  Benjamin's guitar work is flat out sick, almost spiritual at times, and is a healthy serving of Southern rock and jam-band free-for-all with a little bit of funk and soul mixed in for good measure.  Never too demanding not to share the spotlight, the evening's old-school format was evident from the outset, as the five-piece band alternately took turns to let their talents shine via solo performance.  That's Paul Benjaman defined - just one of the guys who truly plays for the love of music, and it showed in Saturday's set.

The cohesiveness of the Paul Benjaman Band was certainly visible as the entire set was amazingly tight.  Aycock provided unfettered emotional counterpoint via pedal steel to Benjaman's stinging solos.  Keyboardist Jeff Newsome traded fiery riffs with Benjaman throughout the night.  The rhythmic interplay by the band with regards to Benjaman's improvisational whims was spot on.  The Blue Rose Show was indisputably one of the highlights of the weekend.

The Dustin Pittsley Band at Back Alley Blues & BBQ 06/16/2012
116 S. Elgin Avenue, Tulsa, OK

When Dustin Pittsley straps on his guitar, he immediately transports into some otherworldly zone.  I don't think he is cognizant of his surroundings as he tunes out everything and puts extreme focus into his music and his band.  It is immediately recognizable in his eyes, an almost possessed look on his face that irradiates an intense desire to make every performance his best performance.  You'll witness this as early as Pittsley's sound check, and it doesn't let up until he has played his last note of the evening.

Dustin Pittsley could play in front of 100 fans or 10,000 fans and he'd never notice the difference.  Better, as a fan, neither would you, as he puts in 100% sweat effort with each performance.  At Back Alley Blues & BBQ Saturday evening, Pittsley was simply white hot.

Bands that play Back Alley Blues & BBQ literally play in the back alley, across from the renowned Tulsa BBQ restaurant located in the Blue Dome District near Third Street.  A few hundred fans gathered for Pittsley's show.  Live Music Saturday Nights in the Blue Dome District are a weekly happening, an almost uninterrupted mini-festival of sorts.  Fans of the New Tulsa Sound traverse back and forth to spots like Back Alley Blues & BBQ, among others, to catch Tulsa's hottest rising stars.  Like Dustin Pittsley.

Dustin Pittsley doesn't look like a soul man.  He's a fashionable, good-looking guy with a warm smile and an easy going and approachable personality that allows him to come across as a drinking buddy or someone with whom you'd catch a football game.   On stage he is the polar opposite, a relentless axe man with a pedigree in rhythm and blues and soul that is akin to Derek Trucks, Doyle Bramhall and Jimmy Vaughan.   The Dustin Pittsley Band features Donnie Wood on bass and Demetrius Williams on drums, but for this show, Pittsley added a second drummer, Williams' brother Malaki.  The result was a blues-infused power jam.  That explosive combination kept the audience spellbound during their entire performance.

Pittsley's concentration is unparallelled and his groove is uncontrollably infectious.  His band is as tight and as solidly proficient as any I've heard on my three trips to Oklahoma this year.  Make sure you get to see Dustin if the opportunity exists.  You'll be glad you did.

I'll highlight the rest of the weekend in a second post to be published later today, including performances by Gogo Plumbay, Desi & Cody, Dead Sea Choir and Pilgrim, plus a look at the renovation of the old Marquee, which will debut next month as The Vanguard.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

Read more here: http://backtorockville.typepad.com/back_to_rockville/2011/05/review-warren-haynes.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://backtorockville.typepad.com/back_to_rockville/2011/05/review-warren-haynes.html#storylink=

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